When Victor's father passes away, Victor finds himself in a quandary. He has just lost his job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and doesn't have enough money to make the trip to Phoenix, Arizona. There, he hopes to claim the money to his father's savings account, pick up his father's truck, and recover his father's ashes. Thomas Builds-The-Fire offers his help, but Victor initially balks at his generosity because they haven't been friends for a while.
From the very beginning, we are introduced to the stark difference between the two former friends. Victor finds Thomas' penchant for dreams, visions, and ancient Indian stories off-putting. Years ago, Thomas reminded Victor of the irony of any Indian celebrating the Fourth Of July. Victor merely accused Thomas of being too serious about such things and exhorted him to just enjoy the holiday.
To Thomas, faith in Native American traditions renders his spirit strong in courage. The old ways bestow a wisdom relevant for all eternity: the visions and ancient stories are a reminder to practice solidarity in good times and bad. Thomas tells Victor that Victor's father was the vision his dreams had sent to remind him of an important tenet, to 'Take Care Of Each Other.' Thomas admits to Victor that his father died fighting for a country that tried to kill him, and his mother died while giving birth to him. Bereft of his parents and without siblings, Thomas' gift had always been his stories. They were given to him before time and before he could speak.
Meanwhile, Victor accepts Thomas's help only because he has no choice. Lacking the financial resources to make the trip, he tells us that he 'felt a sudden need for tradition.' Victor is hesitant to accept Thomas' help because it is an uncomfortable reminder of his own ambivalence towards the ancient traditions. Like so many on the reservation, Victor is ashamed and embarrassed at the incongruities visions and dreams present against the backdrop of a cosmopolitan, mainstream American society.
Thomas was a storyteller whom nobody wanted to listen to...Victor knew that Thomas would remain the crazy storyteller who talked to dogs and cats, who listened to the wind and pine trees...he couldn't really be friends with Thomas, even after all that had happened. It was cruel but it was real. As real as the ash, as Victor's father sitting behind the seats...
Victor mourns his apathy: 'The only real thing he shared with anybody was a bottle and broken dreams.' His detachment presents cold comfort against the resilient vitality inherent in Thomas' visions and dreams. In the end, Victor agrees to listen to Thomas' stories just once, sometime in the future. He thinks it might be a 'fair trade' after all Thomas has done for him.